MAINE, USA — As the countdown to the first day of a new semester continues, a virtual panel is taking place via Zoom the evening of Thursday, June 29, to address concerns and questions that parents and school staff members may have.
The "Back to School Forum" about COVID-19 vaccines and other hot-button topics is being put on by the Maine Community Action Partnership, along with the Maine Public Health Association, the Maine American Academy of Pediatrics, and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. It will feature three speakers who each have slightly different backgrounds and perspectives. They include:
- Ross Berkowitz, the principal at Fisher-Mitchell School (an elementary school in Bath)
- Dr. Laura Blaisdell, the vice president of the Maine American Academy of Pediatrics
- Dr. David McDermott, a family physician at Northern Mayo and CA Dean hospitals
These panelists say they'll be talking about things like the challenges schools are facing, as well as what possible recommendations or solutions may look like.
Blaisdell said the main concerns she has heard from parents revolve around disruptions to their children's lives and social-emotional development. She said they're also expressing fatigue from ever-changing guidelines and difficulty balancing home-schooling with work.
Berkowitz said most families he has spoken to are excited for a return to school, but some are still concerned and want to make sure it's safe.
Blaisdell said vaccinations are the most important measure families can take to stay safe, but obviously not all students are old enough to get vaccinated. That's why other safety measures like masking, social distancing, health screenings before school, and good hygiene may also be necessary this coming semester. Pool testing is also an option that some schools may choose to adopt.
The panelists said overall, the goal is to get students back to school in-person as safely and normally as possible, even if that means taking safety measures similar to last year's.
"Children have shown themselves to be incredibly resilient and 100 percent capable of using those interventions," Blaisdell expressed. "In fact, I think children really would prefer to be together in any way that they need to be."
Berkowitz said being back in the classrooms is important for students to reach their full potential.
"Kids, especially -- they're pattern-seekers," Berkowitz said. "They like routines. They like structure -- and the fewer unknowns there are for kids, the better they are emotionally, which means they have less anxiety, and they're able to focus on their learning."
The good news, Berkowitz said, is that there are a lot more "knowns" about COVID-19 this year compared to last, which means schools have been able to better prepare for a variety of plans if procedures change mid-semester. He said there are still questions about what some things may look like, including lunch schedules, for example.
If you're interested in attending the panel tonight, you can register here.